ST. GABRIEL — It used to be an old post office, a dreary, run-down building tucked in a residential neighborhood between modest wood-framed homes.
But in the past year, after adding services and undergoing a dramatic renovation project, the St. Gabriel Health Clinic has become one of many signs of progress in this growing city.
One year ago, clinic Chief Executive Officer Victor Kirk said he envisioned the place as a “one-stop-shop” medical facility where doctors could broadly address patients’ health issues.
Kirk said Thursday the facility has reached that status.
The clinic is a federally qualified health center, meaning no patients are turned away and its operators are required by law to provide discounted services based on patients’ family size and income.
“We are really a part of the nation’s health safety net,” Kirk said. “We focus on the under-served, people who can’t pay the full costs, Medicaid patients who can’t find a provider — the patients who really don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The clinic’s federal reimbursement payments are tied to medical outcomes, he said.
For instance, a diabetic patient’s risk of losing teeth is roughly the same as the risk of losing a limb, he said. Expectant mothers, he added, are going to have problems with their pregnancies if they have poor oral health.
“What we do here is link services,” Kirk said. “We have an automatic referral method in place that helps our outcomes.
A patient with diabetes can be treated by a doctor for the disease and then automatically referred to a dentist, a licensed social worker and a nutritionist teaching a class on healthy home meals, all under one roof, Kirk said.
The clinic primarily serves rural patients from within a 90-square-mile area surrounding its Monticello Drive address. A large percentage of those patients lack adequate means of transportation, further adding to the practicality of housing multiple services in one location, Kirk said.
The clinic’s transformation from a year ago, when it was just a dilapidated primary health clinic, is mostly due to $315,000 in federal stimulus dollars the clinic received in April 2010, he said.
“This clinic is what the Obama money is all about. This place really was a dump before,” Kirk said. “The difference is night and day.”
The remodeled facility and added services mean more patients. This allows the clinic to trim administrative costs and lower rates, he said.
Laboratory tests that cost $60 at another clinic would go for $20 in St. Gabriel, he said.
The clinic has offset the reduced cost of services by steadily adding new patients during the past several months and seeing those patients more frequently, he said.
Visits to the clinic are up 40 percent compared with last June, he said.
“Many of our new patients are Hispanic,” Kirk said. “We went from zero Hispanic patients to more than 600 in a year’s time.”
To serve the Hispanic patient base, the clinic employs an outreach manager, medical assistant, certified counselor and a front desk clerk, all of whom speak Spanish, Kirk said.
As Kirk walked through the newly renovated building Thursday, he smiled while pointing out each brightly painted wing and the children’s play area.
Federal dollars paid for an addition to the existing building, doubling the clinic’s size from about 1,500 square feet to 3,000 square feet.
Hallways, floors, ceilings and patient examination rooms all have been refurbished, he said.
“No one wants to come to a place with a leaking roof and stains on the ceiling,” Kirk said.
“What we’ve done is give the community a place they can be proud of. A place where they are comfortable,” Kirk said.
The clinic operates satellite locations at East Iberville School and at the Math, Science and Arts Academy-East, both in St. Gabriel.
Plans are in the works to add a fourth location by September in the Gardere area of East Baton Rouge Parish, Kirk said.